Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Pure Imagination

The greatest shock of reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as an adult (aside from the dark humor, e.g. Chapter 10:  The Family Begins to Starve--that must have drifted right past me as a child) is how quick a read it is.  I remember rich, delicious descriptions that I realize now, must have been colored in by my eager imagination.  Part of Roald Dahl’s genius is knowing just how much to feed little minds—to bait them into dreaming more deeply about fantastic possibilities.  The story, the dialogue, the bones of imagery is all there, but young readers must meet the book half way—contributing their own ideas to construct the magical place that is Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. 

This week, I am bringing you a special mother-daughter edition of Life with Sophia.  Together, Sophia and I read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory through my participation in the online book club, From Left to Write.  Afterwards, we both blogged in response to the following prompt, encouraging us to insert ourselves inside the pages:   What I Would Do If I Won a Golden Ticket

By Sophia, Age 6

First thing:  Tell my parents. 

Second thing:  Put on my best clothes. 

Third thing:  Get in the car. 

Fourth thing:  Bring my parents to the factory. 

Fifth thing:  Be very interested. 

Sixth thing:  Greetings: “It’s very nice to meet you, Mr. Wonka.”

Seventh thing:  Inside the factory:  We play “Whip the Cream” and watch as Mr. Wonka makes candy disappear into our mouths.  We play a piano that is made out of candy.  In one room, it looks like we were outside.  And there are trees made out of candy, bushes made out of candy.  Everything has sugar.  Even the grass and the dirt.  The waterfall is made out of chocolate.  The bark is mint gum.  The wood is dark chocolate, my mother’s favorite.  The leaves are made out of mint, cause Daddy likes the color green.  The birds are made out of coconut and dried mangos.

Eighth thing:  We see a little cottage.  The curtains are made out of taffy.  The door is made out of a giant cookie.  The chairs and tables are made out of crushed mint.  There is even a piano made out of licorice.  The fireplace is made out of taffy.  The windows are made out of blue flattened gumballs.  And the chimney is made out of gumdrops.  I leave it alone because Mr. Wonka says, “We have to move onto the next thing” (and because it’s his house). 

Ninth thing:  I get a prize at the end, because I am the most behaved person.  My prize is for my whole family to live there! 

Tenth thing:  I say thank you at the end.  So does the rest of my family. 

By Melissa, Age 43

First thing:  I freak out.  It must be a hoax.  How did I get so lucky?  I get the ticket authenticated.  I do not alert the media.  I hide it in my underwear drawer.

Second thing:  I ask my daughter to come with me.   I tell her to tell no one.  She announces it to all her friends at school the next day.  That evening, the media descends on my house like a swarm of flies on a dead body.  They take really awful pictures of me with my mouth open and print them in International newspapers. 

Third thing:  I cannot sleep at all the night before because I am so excited.  This means I will have dark rings under my eyes and will be cranky on what should be the best day of my life. 

Fourth thing:  I put on my best clothes.  I take off my best clothes.  I put my best clothes on again. 

Fifth thing:  I kiss my husband goodbye who doesn’t actually mind that he’s not going to the factory because he doesn’t like chocolate.  Instead he will sleep in and watch an entire season of Game of Thrones. 

Sixth Thing:  Willy Wonka is much shorter than I expected.  I am relieved that I do not feel attracted to him. 

Seventh Thing:  Willy Wonka has invented dark chocolate that will not give me pimples.  He leads me by the hand to a Chocolate Bar where all the parents can hang out and sip Shiraz out of cups made of the non-pimple causing chocolate, while our kids go to town mowing mint grass with their mouths.  Willy Wonka assures me everything is organic. 

Eighth Thing:  We all brush our teeth.  

Ninth Thing: Willy Wonka tells me that Sophia remembered to say “thank you” and “please” while I was too busy chatting it up with the other parents at the Chocolate Bar to effectively parent.  He commends me on such a well-mannered child.  He then tells me that he offered her a lifetime supply of chocolate, but she asked that he please foot the bill for her college tuition instead.  He agreed. 

Tenth Thing:  I smile with gratitude and give Willy Wonka a kiss on the cheek.  Wait a minute.  Is he blushing? 

This post was inspired by the classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. To celebrate, Penguin Young Readers Group, in partnership with Dylan’s Candy Bar, the world-famous candy emporium, and First Book, a nonprofit social enterprise that provides books for children from low-income families, is launching a year-long international celebration.

Head over to From Left to Write to learn how you and your child can have a chance to win the Golden Ticket Sweepstakes where the grand prize is a magical trip to New York City plus much more! For every entry submitted, Penguin Young Readers Group will make a donation to First Book. Then, join From Left to Write on July 24 as we discuss Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. As a book club member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

Monday, July 7, 2014

An Untidy Life

If writing had been relegated to the edges of my life before my father came to live with us, it has now been pushed over the precipice and plummeted to its death.  Words shattered at the base of the canyon.  Letters splayed everywhere.  Sometimes, I stand at the edge and look over at the wreckage and feel overwhelmed at the prospect of putting it all back together.

I miss it.  The outlet.  The opportunity to make sense of the senseless.  To construct a narrative out of chaos.  Line up the sentences of my life and make them march in order.  That’s really what writers do.  They tidy.  They take the messiness of life and try to make it neat.

Living with my father living with cancer is anything but neat.  Every day I find new corners of impatience within myself.

I look at my sink, that once held the detritus of just two people, and now it’s littered with the remains of three.  Signs of illness gather in the corners of the bathroom, pepper the sink, lie matted in the drain.

I know he tries to clean it up, which I appreciate.  But there’s always more.

Most days, I feel like I am slicing off parts of myself and handing them to others until the end of the day, when there are a only few crumbs left to dab at.  At dinner, my father, anxious to share the day, tells us every detail of every moment.

“I had the most wonderful day,” my father begins, his voice still traceable to the Lower East Side.  “I went to Shop Rite and spent hours picking everything out, reading all the labels.  I brought back the coupon they gave me the last time I bought coffee and they gave me the two dollars, even though I didn’t buy new coffee.  Isn’t that wonderful?”  He regales us with stories about everything he has eaten, every person he has encountered, everything he has read.

Sophie pleads at my elbow to tell me something.  “Dad, could you hold on a sec.  Sophie needs a turn.”

“Do I have to eat this?” Sophie says, prodding her eggplant in peanut sauce.

“Just eat the broccoli.”  I tell her.  “You don’t have to have the eggplant.”

“My stomach hurts.”

“Soph, if you don’t eat, there won’t be any dessert.”

“How much do I have to eat to get dessert?”  I sigh.

“So let me tell you about this band that I heard in the park….” My father starts in again.

“Do I have to have the noodles too?”

“Soph, I’m not cutting deals.  Eat.  If you’re stomach hurts, don’t eat, but you’re not having dessert if it hurts.”

“They were terrific…” my father continues.

I look over at Kevin who is almost finished eating.  I have no idea how his day has gone.  Nor does he know anything about mine.

Underneath the table, my toenails are menacingly long.  Later, in an effort to cover the chips in the polish, I give them a coat of quick-drying red.  As I go to replace the cap, I spill the contents of the bottle all over.  Bright red splashed onto the floor, the cabinets, the off-white towels, and my leg.

I pour nail polish remover on the floor and get most of it up, but it stubbornly clings to the grout and the fibers of my towel,

“Mommy?  What are you doing?”

“I’m trying to clean up nail polish I just spilled all over the place,” I tell Sophie, trying to keep my voice even.

“Can you do my nails when you’re done?”

The hours I never knew were empty are now filled with hospitals and side effects and phone calls.  My relationships with my friends have been relegated to texting and facebook and voice mail.

          Thinking of u always.

          Miss u.  Much love.

My working hours stretch deeper into the night, because it all still needs to get done.

I hate being busy.  I remember when I once wore it as a badge of honor.  How I used to get into these competitive little conversations with my husband about who was busier.  I spent years unwinding that knot, trying to create more spaciousness in my life.  Not that I was wildly successful, but I had been making progress.

That progress has stalled in the middle of an intersection.  Everyone’s honking, and all I want to do is get out of the car.